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July 12, 2018 4:16 pm

New York Times Chief Dance Critic Joins BDS Protesters Denouncing Israeli Performers

avatar by Ira Stoll

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The headquarters of The New York Times. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Sometimes the clearest examples of the anti-Israel tilt of The New York Times come not in the news columns but in the arts section.

The latest example is a review by the chief Times dance critic, Alastair Macaulay, of a performance in New York. The review begins:

Human rights protesters were demonstrating outside the Joyce Theater on Tuesday night. The company appearing was from Israel — Batsheva’s junior troupe, the Young Ensemble. The topics of protest were Israel’s repression of the Palestinian people and Batsheva’s role, as an Israeli cultural ambassador, as a front for that repression.

The Times somehow accepts the idea that these were “human rights protesters” rather than “anti-Israel protesters.” It takes at face value the claim that “[t]he topics of protest were Israel’s repression of the Palestinian people and Batsheva’s role, as an Israeli cultural ambassador, as a front for that repression,” rather than attributing the claims to the protesters.

An alternative approach might have been something more like, “The protesters claimed to be protesting what they said was Israel’s repression of the Palestinian people, but Israel’s defenders say the protesters actually oppose Israel’s mere existence, and are protesting the dancers simply because many of the dancers were born in Israel.” The Times doesn’t report how many protesters there were — which it usually does in these situations (The Jerusalem Post numbered them at 50). And it doesn’t explain why the protest deserved mention in the first paragraph of the review rather than being ignored or tucked away at the end.

A letter from the protest organizers suggests indeed that it is Israel’s very existence and founding that is their core grievance:

Israel was established 70 years ago through the mass expulsion of Palestinian Arabs from their homes and villages — a catastrophe, or Nakba, for Palestinians. The expulsion of over 750,000 Palestinians was a deliberate and systematic act planned by Zionist leaders and carried out by pre-state Zionist militias, and later the Israeli army. Israel has since denied Palestinian refugees their right of return to their homes and villages, as mandated by international law. Celebration of 70 years of dispossession of the Palestinian people should not be supported by the Joyce Theater.

The problem with the Times review, though, spills over from the treatment of the protesters into the treatment of the dancers and their performance. The Times critic writes:

The climate onstage, however, is never one of freedom. There’s always a sense that Big Brother is watching. The company performs Gaga, a movement style developed by Mr. Naharin to heighten sensation and imagination and to go beyond familiar limits. But even when the 16 dancers are at their wildest, they look driven rather than driving.

Near the end, all the dancers do unison movement routines that evoke various folk forms of the Near East: here a slow turning step with one arm raised, suggesting the movement of dervishes; there a two-step number with arms outstretched, reminiscent of the dabke, an Arab folk dance. Yet the look is always one that deprives them of freedom rather than liberating them. Even when earlier on three or more subgroups are doing entirely different, often intense things, the mood is controlled, involuntary, dragooned.

To me, they look like citizens of a totalitarian state. …It leaves me cold and annoyed.

The “totalitarian state” referred to here doesn’t seem to me to be Arab, Turkish or Persian but rather, at least as I interpret the review, Israel itself. The review headline is “With Batsheva, Politics Inside and Outside the Joyce Theater.” And, one might add, politics also in the Times review.

And if the dance performance left Macaulay “cold and annoyed” — well, that’s a fine description, too, of how his review left me.

The same Times arts section carries an enthusiastic article (“This Tevye Kvetches In Yiddish”) about a performance in Yiddish of the play “Fiddler on the Roof.” As if the nice coverage of the Yiddish performance is supposed to make the Times attack on the Israeli dancers somehow more palatable. On the contrary, it’s emblematic of how the Times likes its Jews. Nostalgia-drenched representatives of now-vanished worlds are acceptable in retrospect — or at least preferable, from the Times point of view, to living, breathing, dancing modern Israelis.

More of Ira Stoll’s media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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